01/06/2014 – Legislative Agenda

The legislative agenda serves as an advocacy tool to communicate the DeKalb County School Board’s legislative priorities to members of the Georgia State General Assembly.


Marshall Orson
I looked at the legislative agenda based on what previous boards have done.  We are looking into something more pared down and attainable. If you look at the history of legislative agendas,  it’s been broad, multiple topics often stated within the context of what we don’t want the legislature to do, which has not been a successful strategy.
The most topical item in previous legislative agendas is the funding of Quality Basic Education.  It has not been fully funded in some extended period of time.  It directly impacts the need to fill our mission.
Another item on our agenda is Instructional Expenditure Control, giving us flexibility.  This is the direction of state policy.  Another item relate to the our ability to control our own budget, furlough days.  The next item is the compulsory school attendance age. Moving it from 16 to 17, there is an ongoing debate about how it affects graduation rates.
The last is school vouchers and tax credit initiatives.  It’s ultimately a legislative agenda for the entire board because it is a consistent position of school boards.
How well aligned are these items with other districts in that we can all support the same goals?
Melvin Johnson
The most consistent item would be the adequate funding of quality education, the Q.B.E.  Equally discussed was the equalization grant formula.  Gwinnett receives $60 million while we put in $105 million.  Another issue was eliminating furlough days from the formula.  Everything else fluctuated.
I am hopeful our legislative agenda can get traction.  We should galvanize our priorities with other districts around the few important issues.
One of the things not on this list is the 5 mill contribution on the equalization formula.  I knew we couldn’t build consensus with it.  It’s not Gwinnett’s fault, they take advantage of it.  But, they didn’t write the formula.  The state legislature wrote it.  The bigger issue is how do you write a formula that is consistent and is actually funded.  I worked with Joe Martin, who had written this law.  He would say it’s a formula at the end of the day.  The real issue is that it’s never been fully funded.  The formula also deals with district size, but there are some big poor systems as well as small rich systems.
It’s going to take some real sitting down and thinking about what the formula should be to fund schools from the state level.  That’s a discussion that has started.  The Governor appointed a commission.  I’m guessing one of the problems they’re having is that it sounds seductively easy to say we’re going to just get rid of QBE and do something else until you try and figure out what that something else is.
Because, built within QBE are some assumptions which may be dated.  It’s a formula about what the state should be supporting.
So, for example, it supports the payment of a principal in every school.  Not necessarily at the salary we’re paying them, but that’s one of the assumptions.  It supports the provision of guidance counselors at a certain number, not necessarily at a school level, but a divisible number of 450 or whatever.
So, all those things may need updating, or maybe they need thrown out, but I don’t know that we’re in a position to talk about throwing them out and starting over until we have a much larger and more substantial conversation with our colleagues in other systems which I think is a necessity.  I think we’re going to run into this problem that the legislative session is short and we’re not individually or collectively focused on the reforms that we think are obtainable and would get the kind of buy in from those that hold the political power at the legislature.
Johnson [00:10:44]
That’s a good point.  To that end, perhaps it would benefit the school system to really consider whether or not we should have a lobbyist and that’s a relative term. A lobbyist that could really address the legislative concerns that we have and have that person be involved in the process and someone with the experience of dealing “wiff” these kinds of issues.  That could be helpful to us and something as a board we should consider.
When we talk about compulsory school attendance, 16-17, is that the state’s legal age?  So, this would be across the state and not just the district.
I thank Mr. Orson for pulling this together and I like the idea that it’s more concise rather than longer because I do think that you can only have a few initiatives at a time.  As Mr. Orson noted, I broadly agree with 4 of these, but the 5th I have reservations about
which would lead me to not vote to put this on the consent agenda with school credit and voucher initiatives.
And, I have a concern about, ahead of knowing the individual facts of certain cases, just stating that we are universally opposed to something like that, which could potentially be a tool for the development of educational opportunities.  Either among different communities like students with special needs, etc … or in different geographic communities.  So, I just wanted to be able to state my reservation with a kind of universal statement that we are uncomfortable with those types of initiatives, which in my opinion, can be a useful tool, though not all the time, that states or local communities can use.
Michael Erwin
Point of clarityfor the school improvement initiatives.  Is there an after thought for this last statement … for compulsory school attendance age?  It just kind of goes off …
Oh … yes … that’s incomplete.  It dropped off.
I want to make another comment and I understand Mr Coleman’s reservations, so I think we’ll have to have a discussion this evening.  I would be further in favor of people refining this even more.  The legislative agenda sounds great.  We don’t have a lobbyist first of all.  I think the more substantial … I think we need a more … and I understand the context of getting ready for the meeting, but I think we need a more substantial conversation about the priorities.
Quite frankly, having had this discussion be just as comfortable tabling it and arranging it at the next work session to really have a substantive conversation that we haven’t really had.  Because I think we really need to have it.  It’s also an opportunity to establish some leadership in the metro area, because I think the other systems go around doing the same thing.  Talking and then they meet for 90 minutes and they go back off.  It’s also a bi product of what happens at the state organizations in there.  It really requires, like what we’re doing with our strategic plan, requires some real thinking that aligns ourself with the needs of the system as well as the political realities of where we are to get something that’s obtainable rather than going through the exercise of saying, here’s a document.
To Mr. Orson’s point and others.  There is a real opportunity for one of them this year.  And, that is increase funding in QBE.  If we do nothing else, I would suggest that we encourage our Governor, legislatures and others to support that reform.  To support in what I understand will be an effort by the Governor to increase QBE funding by two to three percent.  That will be significant.  We’d get about $300 million or so from the state allocation.  So, we’re looking $6 to $9 million.  So, one day, what we can do, I think you’re right. I always use to call it when I was there, you had to get in the jet stream.
Cause, very few people independently move anything through the general assembly.  The jet stream in an election year, politicians like to do good things for education during election years.  There’s more money this year and there’s more opportunity for increased funding in QBE.  So, if the board might want to do anything, a letter or statement to our delegation, to the Governor and others supporting that effort.  I think you have a real opportunity to have a positive outcome.
Michael Erwin
This is probably more so for our re-elected chairman, with these in depth discussions, can we start to look at some dates for our retreat, so we can have these discussions?
Mr Orson, am I hearing you correctly?  I heard what Mr. Thurmond is saying.  If I had to glean from both the conversations, I would say that right now the board could take from this list the adequate funding comments made by Mr. Thurmond asking the Governor to increase the QBE amount.  We actually make that a part of our consent agenda and make it official that we are making that recommendation and we table everything else for further discussion at the retreat.
Thad Mayfield
My only question is whether or not we need to have an effort that we can see.  A defined effort to collaborate with other stake holders in the metro area to put some momentum … to be proactive in this regard.
In essence, this has been done.  There is a letter by the GSBA.  They have written the Governor a letter.  I will ask Margaret to share that letter with the board members as well as legislative concerns from each of the metropolitan school systems.
We will place on the consent agenda, the adequate funding recommendation and table the other parts to be discussed at our retreat.